Wednesday 30 July 2014

YA REVIEW: 'We Were Liars' - E. Lockhart (Hot Key Books, 2014)

Three cousins, Cadence, Johnny and Mirren, along with outsider Gat, make up the four Liars. The cousins are Sinclairs, born into privilege and promise and every summer they congregate on the family's private island. After a terrible accident, a damaged Cadence has to sift through the murky waters of her extended family to find out the truth about the incident...

We Were LiarsWhen I finished this, I stated on Goodreads that I probably wasn't going to write a review because the less you know about this book before you read it the better. Even though I didn't know any concrete facts, I had heard whispers on the breeze and even whispers can do damage to a reading experience such as this. But then certain books live on in your head long after you've finished them and they deserve to be praised. I've successfully managed to write a spoiler-free review of a book before, a similar sort of book that requires spoiler-free reading and I think I did an alright job if I say so myself. So here goes. If you really, really don't want to know anything else about We Were Liars before you start it, I suggest you stop reading here (but only after I've said you really need to think about starting it very soon)...

I'm rubbish with books that are steeped in hype. I become a very cynical sort and even more judgey than I usually am (not something I'm particularly proud of) but this makes it all the more satisfying when a book does live up to all the praise. Let's start off with the best thing about We Were Liars - the writing. It's sparse, but I like sparse. Why use five words when you can use one? And because this style is so uncompromising, the voice is too and I don't think it needs pointing out that this is a Very Good Thing indeed (but I will anyway - it is a Very Good Thing). Cadence is the perfect character to lead us through the lives of the Sinclair family - revered, but enough of an outsider to show them warts and all.

From my own experience, there is not much to relate to with the wealthy Sinclairs but as with all good storytelling, this didn't matter a jot. This may have been a book about rich white dudes but it was also a book about prejudice and the abuse of power and love, common themes in many novels but here used in a very clever way. It felt very old-fashioned in some ways, perhaps to do with the setting. On starting it, I kept getting flashbacks of scenes from Dynasty, but here there were less shoulder-pads and more shabby-chic preppiness. I guess this is all testament to the strength of the writing again and her amazing ability to build this world of privilege in such amazing and convincing detail.

There were a few things that made it not quite perfect - it slowed down quite a lot in the middle for me (that's all I will say about this because to say anymore would be alluding to those whispers on the breeze mentioned above) and I would have enjoyed a bit more detail about the other Liars at the beginning. This is quite a quick read and we're thrown into the middle of events early on - as a consequence, it took me a little while to get to grips with some of the characters.

But these are minor gripes. We Were Liars deserves all the attention it's been getting. It is a clever, involving story with plenty of mystery, and I'm all for clever stories, especially when they are told this well.

Friday 25 July 2014

MG REVIEW: 'Murder Most Unladylike' - Robin Stevens (Corgi, 2014)

Deepdean School for Girls, 1934. When Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong set up their very own deadly secret detective agency, they struggle to find any truly exciting mysteries to investigate. (Unless you count the case of Lavinia's missing tie. Which they don't, really.) But then Hazel discovers the Science Mistress, Miss Bell, lying dead in the Gym. She thinks it must all have been a terrible accident - but when she and Daisy return five minutes later, the body has disappeared. Now the girls know a murder must have taken place . . . and there's more than one person at Deepdean with a motive. Now Hazel and Daisy not only have a murder to solve: they have to prove a murder happened in the first place. Determined to get to the bottom of the crime before the killer strikes again (and before the police can get there first, naturally), Hazel and Daisy must hunt for evidence, spy on their suspects and use all the cunning, scheming and intuition they can muster. But will they succeed? And can their friendship stand the test? (Synopsis from Goodreads)

Murder Most Unladylike (Wells and Wong, #1)Although this book is set in 1934, I'm not going to put it in my Past on Paper feature because it just feels all wrong calling it historical fiction. Even though it's historical and a work of fiction.Yes, the voice very much depends on this particular time period but (and there's massive clue in the title here) this is very much in the realms of the mysterious for me. It pays homage to both Agatha Christie and her ilk as well as classic boarding school stories but somehow manages to be something else entirely.

First admission: the crime element wasn't the page-turner I thought it was going to be. Maybe it was the 'school girl investigators' angle because this subsequently put a bit of distance between the main characters and the other players or just that the plot didn't unfold quickly enough for me. Not really sure, but the book made up for it in other ways...

The cover design and synopsis gave the impression of something light-hearted - apart from that whole murder thing - and even though the tone was upbeat, it surprised me with an underlying darkness, not to do with the murder (maybe partly to do with the murder *resists urges to say MURDER in Taggart-like fashion*) but with the relationship between Hazel Wong and Daisy Wells, our two detectives. Hazel is the put-upon 'secretary' of their secret society who records everything in her casebook and describes the frustration and occasional upset the actions of her best friend cause. Daisy is definitely manipulative, possibly slightly sociopathic (can someone be slightly sociopathic?) but never boring. What kept me turning the pages was their 'friendship' - a very realistic depiction of how one personality can dominate another and it gave the book another dimension.

A good voice can make a book and here it never falters. Hazel is a very sympathetic character and the combination of her keen observation and naivety make her a great storyteller - I would have loved to hear more about her life in Hong Kong but hopefully this might be developed further on in the series. And even though this is Hazel's story, I hope Daisy and her background get featured in future adventures, especially after that little taster at the end...

Despite being the tiniest bit disappointed in the actual crime (although I applaud the clever resolution), this was a surprising mystery in more ways than you might think...

Saturday 5 July 2014

Recent Review Round Up

In lieu of about six month's worth of reviews, I bring you one big post containing some of the stuff I've enjoyed recently. You may have noticed that this is not a 'YA Review Round Up' because it is not exclusively YA (trying to broaden my reading a bit here). But it's still mostly YA. There's no way I'm cutting down the YA intake.

Shadowplay (Micah Grey, #2)If you remember my review of Pantomime then you've got a great memory - well done. If not, the gist was that I loved it and it brought me out of a reading slump so top marks all around. So of course I read the sequel Shadowplay and loved that too - more Micah, more Drystan, more magical sexual tension than you could shake a stick at (not that I would shake a stick in the face of sexual tension - that would be very odd behaviour). As a result of my love for these, I was very sad to hear that the publisher of these fine books, Strange Chemistry, was folding. However, I also love a good silver lining and the author Laura Lam has already self-published a short story, The Snake Charm about Drystan before he met Micah, with more stories to follow and perhaps a third book in this series...

This is Not a TestI'm not quite sure how I can sum up reading a Courtney Summers book. I finished Cracked Up to Be a while back and I barely said a word about it because I couldn't form a coherent sentence that summed up my feelings, apart from perhaps 'I would saw off my right arm to be able to write a book like this.' Jo buys the best presents and she didn't let me down at Christmas with a copy of This is Not a Test. Just read it. Please. You'll know what I'm on about then. Oh, and there's going to be a sequel.


Dead Man's Cove (Laura Marlin Mysteries, #1)I've been increasingly drawn to middle grade books (do we call them middle grade in the UK? Apologies if we don't) and they've been another thing that has rescued me from many a reading slump recently. My eldest daughter is just getting to an age where she's starting to enjoy chapter books and I'm getting great satisfaction out of stockpiling titles that I'll probably foist upon her at some point in the future. First one? Dead Man's Cove by Lauren St. John. Think Enid Blyton but as contemporary as they come. I would have adored this when I was nine or ten because I adored it when I read it a couple of weeks ago. Proper good mystery, topical, beautifully written, just ace.

Dead RomanticI'd been meaning to start a book by CJ Skuse for ages because she is one of the funniest people on Twitter and now I feel stupid for leaving it so long - Dead Romantic is very amusing, very British, very icky and very very very very very good. A YA contemp with an undercurrent of The League of Gentleman, if you can imagine such a thing. Go read now please.

TroubleTalking of YA contemp, if you haven't read Trouble by Non Pratt yet, I think you need to have a good long think about your life choices. Please do not think this is an 'issue' book and you must therefore avoid. Because as we all know, when books that are written about the big stuff (teenage pregnancy in this case) are well written (as in this case), then that's a good as books get (as in this case).

The Cuckoo's Calling (Cormoran Strike, #1)Do you remember where you were when you found out that Robert Galbraith was none other than JK Rowling? Ok, so we didn't have a clue who Robert Galbraith was but still, the news that she had written a crime novel was a welcome one. It took me a criminally long time to get around to reading The Cuckoo's Calling but as I suspected, she does this sort of thing very well indeed. And the fact that a novel written by JK Rowling contains the word 'pubehead' pleases me greatly.

Beautiful RuinsBeautiful Ruins was the first bit of literary fiction I'd read in quite a while and it was my 'dipping into when on the bus or tube' book. It wasn't until about a third of the way through that I really started to get lost in it and this is why I don't read literary fiction that much anymore - I have the attention span of a gnat these days - but then again, it makes it all the more satisfactory when a title holds me within it's grip like this one did. And it made me cry on the bus. 'Nuff said.

Better finish here because this post is getting far too long but I promise I'm going to start writing proper reviews again soon...

Wednesday 18 June 2014

It's been a while...

It really has.

I've been wanting to get back to blogging again for ages, but there's always been a combination of things stopping me, the main one being my own ability to procrastinate at all costs.

And then there's the added pressure that comes with choosing to review books on a regular basis, that underlying guilt when you finish one, leave it a while and say 'oh, I'll probably write a review next week', but then you start another book and another and before you realise it, several months have gone passed and you've all but given up on the reviews, because, really, what's the point?

And then you start to miss it, writing and discussing books, writing for the love of it, writing because you can and not because you have to.

And then there's the more practical reasons associated with non-blogging - life stuff, moving house, family, work, not being able to bear to look at the screen of my laptop in the evenings without my eyes glazing over. The usual.

Things I found whilst packing, some more respectable than others.

Which all brings me back to right now. This blog has alwasy had a reading and writing theme and this has mostly been to do with YA because that's what I like to read and write about. This probably isn't going to change in the future but I think I'm going to enjoy the fact that my blog doesn't really have any particular theme or remit and write about other stuff too. Life stuff, books other than YA (which I have been reading a bit of recently) and maybe even bits of my own writing. Who knows.

Anyway, in short, I'm back for a bit. Not going to make any promises, but here are a few things you can expect in the coming weeks, months etc...

I recently attended the Judy Blume talk in London and I still can't get over the fact that I sat a few feet away from Judy Blume. JUDY FRICKIN' BLUME. When I think about my favourite books as a kid and a teenager, I think about Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Superfudge, Deenie, Are you There God? It's Me Margaret and Tiger Eyes, so not only did this talk bring a huge grin to my chops, but it's also inspired me to read the Judy Blume back catalogue, to revisit those old favourites and discover the ones that weren't stocked by my local library the first time round.

(By the way, this will be a lot of different blog posts over a long period of time, not one MAMMOTH  JUDY BLUME POST, as amazing as that would be).

Before that though, I'm going to write a bit about all the books I've enjoyed and haven't reviewed in the last six months or so, because they deserve a little bit of love for being so fantastic.

But that's for next week. This week is about me saying hello again and this photo....

Friday 3 January 2014

Guest Post: Jeff Norton, Author of the MetaWars Series

Displaying MetaWars4_BlogTourBanner1.jpgA little while ago, I reviewed the first book in the MetaWars series, a interesting and fast-moving take on the dystopian genre. Well, now that series is coming to an end with the release of the fourth and last book, so today, I welcome the author Jeff Norton, to talk about the mixed feelings that come with saying goodbye to characters after a long journey together...

Jeff NortonI’ve spent the past four years with my characters.  And now it’s time to say goodbye.

Characters occupy a strange part of a writer’s brain, an uncharted netherworld somewhere between dream and reality.  To me, these people are real. I see them. I hear them. But to everyone else, they are fictional constructs that exist only on the page.

My greatest hope is that Jonah and Sam become as real to the reader as they are to me. They’ve already made the great leap from my brain to the page.  And now they exist on their own, for readers to meet and inspect and analyze.  I’ve done what I can. It’s up to them to make the final jump from page to heart, to take up residence in some small corner of the reader’s life. 

Metawars: The Freedom Frontier (Metawars, #4)If you’ve read the MetaWars novels, you’ll know that immortality is a central theme of the books.  In the world I’ve created, people yearn to live forever in a digital way – “Uploading” their consciousness to the internet in order to outlive their mortal bodies – digital immortality.  And I suppose that’s what I hope to achieve for my characters. 

Long after I’m gone, like authors of long gone generations, I hope that future readers will discover Jonah’s quest, his troublesome coming of age in a confusing world, and his friendship with Sam, and the two main characters will live anew in the mind of those unknowable, future readers.  Likely, they’ll read the books in some digital form that we haven’t yet dreamed up, and not on paper, and in that way, reality will mirror fiction: Jonah and Sam will achieve their digital immortality.  They will outlive me, outlive their current physical (paperback) form, and jump from generation to generation along a digital spectrum.  And if they do that, they can truly live forever and my “goodbye” will not final.

Thank you so much Jeff for sharing this rather moving take on well-loved characters. And I'll be reviewing some more of the MetaWars book in the very near future...

Jeff Norton is the author of the MetaWars saga from Orchard Books.  The final installment, MetaWars 4.0: The Freedom Frontier publishes 2nd January, 2014.  Find Jeff on the web at, twitter at and facebook at